“When you look for Jerusalem online, the first thing you see is rocks,” Itay Mautner, the artistic director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture protested. “On Flickr, you see more rocks than people.” Mautner and his associates are hoping to give Jerusalem a facelift. The Season of Culture, a super-spanning festival of arts that ran this year between mid-May and early September, is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Culture and a host of local artists, designers, and musicians to shine a light on Jerusalem’s ever-strengthening art scene.
The crown jewel in this four-month push was Ron Arad’s 720 Degrees, a colossal installation at the Israel Museum, on display from August 16 to September 5. Arad, an industrial designer who has reshaped everything from eyeglasses to chandeliers, is one of Jerusalem’s hometown boys made good. Though born in Tel Aviv, Arad studied at Jerusalem’s renowned Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and his installation marked a kind of triumphant return to Jerusalem. His designs range from transparent chairs made from plastic sheeting to enormous metal sculptures that seem to seep through a gallery space. Arad’s most recent installation, aside from 720 Degrees, is a 55-foot-tall LED sculpture, Vortext, which rises out of the Seoul landscape like a hyper-modern Tower of Pisa.
720 Degrees, which originally appeared in London last summer, is Arad’s interpretation of a Cinerama dome, an enormous circle made of silicon rods suspended eight meters off the ground. The silicon material, which had the texture of a particularly flexible party favor glowstick, allows videos to be projected simultaneously on both sides of the circle — thus the 720 degrees of the work’s title. The piece drew huge crowds of after-hours guests to the Israel Museum, and it’s easy to see why: 720 Degrees at night is a modern cathedral of light, simultaneously calling to mind an enormous hanging bead curtain and an opera hall. Arad manages to combine the aesthetics of a laser dome Pink Floyd show with a pilgrimage site. 720 Degrees is an interactive movie screen, with crowds wandering in and out of the structure or sitting breathlessly on the inside.
The video art displayed on and around the work included snippets by the likes of Christian Marclay and David Shrigley. Matt Collishaw’s short piece featured a fantasy landscape of Avatar-like construction, using the enormous space to create trees that dripped with light. Other artists explored the possibilities of 720 Degrees in different ways, having characters pop up at unexpected angles or traverse back and forth in the circle. It was as if a group of high-profile video artists had been allowed to design a ride at Disneyworld.
The placement of 720 Degrees was no doubt intentional: It peeked over the Jerusalem landscape, a glowing testament to the Israel Museum as one of the significant places amongst the ruins and temples. In a city of monuments, 720 Degrees was yet another, albeit a temporary one — a colossus of a project that integrated video with landscape, a Mecca for the art- and design-inclined of the country.
Arad’s work went a long way toward shifting the focus in Jerusalem away from the religious sites and political unrest. But perhaps Mautner was displeased to see the choice Arad had made for the title cards in between video loops: a large stretch of stone wall, stray weeds pushing out of the crumbling rock.
Ron Arad’s 720 Degrees was on view at the Israel Museum (Ruppin Boulevard, Jerusalem) from August 16 to September 5.